The Best Winter Compost Accelerators

Composting generally tends to slow down as we trudge into the winter months. Proper composting typically relies on warm compost piles, but cold days force these piles to cool down significantly. Moreover, due to an increase in snow and a significant reduction in compostable materials like leaves, there is hardly anything to compost.

However, that does not necessarily mean composting during the winter months is impossible. Compost accelerators, sometimes known as compost starters, are fantastic at keeping your piles way above freezing, ensuring that you can compost year-round.

Before discussing some of the top compost starters for winter on the market, we must garner an understanding of why composting over the winter is even a good idea.

Also, if you’re new to composting, check out our beginners guide to composting before you get started.

The Benefits of Composting Over the Winter

In late fall, you may be tempted to put your composting practices on hold temporarily. First, however, think about the benefits that composting offers you in general:

  • No wasted food scraps
  • It helps produce high-quality fertilizer for the warmer months
  • It can double as a secondary heat source for plants

Do these benefits lessen during the winter? Not really; in fact, they may be even more beneficial than during the warmer months, if just a little bit more difficult.

Gardening, even if you don’t have a winter greenhouse, is a year long process. Composting can be a winter gardening practice that will help bear fruit (quite literally) in the spring and summer months.

Maintaining your compost piles over the winter allows you to produce fertilizer for months in advance of the standard planting season, allowing you to have a huge supply in case you plan on having a larger planting season or even want to donate some to a friend.

This benefit doubles with the continuation of recycling food scraps for a good purpose. Using a compost starter or accelerator can greatly benefit you if you have an outdoor or indoor greenhouse that requires more warmth than the winter provides.

Will Compost Survive the Winter?

Helping your compost to survive over the winter is not that difficult.

First, ensure that you feed your compost the right balance of green and brown ingredients. Green scraps will come from food waste over the winter, and brown will come from dead leaves and other plant materials produced in the fall. So, during the fall, make sure to collect dead leaves to use for composting during the winter.

From here, make sure to insulate your active compost; move the compost bin into a warmer part of your yard, rebuilding it with a mixture of brown and green matter to insulate it. After that, it is a matter of ensuring the moisture is maintained inside the compost, so covering your compost pile will be a good bet. Keeping it off the ground will also reduce the chance that snow will soak into it and disrupt the moisture levels.

One final note: as long as your compost piles do not freeze, the microbes inside should survive, ensuring that your compost will live through the winter.

The natural decomposition process of your compost material is also a good source of heat for your compost bin. I good way to kick start this process is by adding a compost accelerator to your bin

The Best Compost Accelerators to Purchase

There are two compost accelerators we would recommend to maintain compost temperatures over the winter.

Espoma is quite a reputable organic garden product brand, and their Organic Traditions Compost Starter is definitely up to par.

While there isn’t a specific temperature rating available, multiple reviewers have discussed the ability of this compost starter to up temperatures by up to 10 degrees over one week. This may not sound like much, but using this with an insulated compost bin is a huge win for the winter.

Bokashi Organic All Seasons Compost Starter from SCD Probiotics is also another high-quality choice. This compost accelerator comes in a much larger package, 3 packs of 2-pound bags, that will surely last you a long time. With over 1500 reviews, high-quality ingredients, and verifiable warmth-keeping during the winter, this is a great option for more diehard composters.

Best DIY Compost Accelerators

If you don’t want to purchase a compost starter, there are some inexpensive options you can try as well. Generally speaking, anything that has a high concentration of nitrogen will help heat up a cold compost pile. Here are a few suggestions for cheap Nitrogen fixers that you can add to your compost bin to accelerate it:

  • Chicken feathers
  • Grass clippings (without seeds)
  • Urine
  • Spent Coffee Grounds
Grass clippings to accelerate composting
grass clippings can be used as a compost accelerator

Will Compost Decompose in Winter?

It is likely that compost will break down in winter as long as you follow our tips below. To sum it up: keep a good mixture of green and brown matter, insulate your active compost, and make sure that the moisture levels are stabilized.

There are quite a few methods for composting during the winter.

Compost Bins

Compost containers or tumblers are some of the best units to maintain outdoor composting during the winter. These units are sealed, so keeping your desired moisture level is intuitive and easy. The only concern with these is maintaining a low enough moisture level; loading enough dried brown matter will make this easy.

These tumblers usually are black which attracts heat to your compost, and they are sealed from the elements, making them an ideal composting method in areas that experience freezing temperatures.

Three Bin Method

The three-bin method uses compost bins in, obviously, a three-bin pattern. You start your compost pile in one bin, move it to the second one when it is full, and do the same, moving on the the third, when the second one is full.

This method ensures you have ample spring fertilizer while keeping your compost moving. But, it will require a bit more active management. You’ll want to add water and turn the compost with a shovel or pitch fork every 2-3 weeks

Compost Pile

Using a classic compost pile may not be the best method for the winter. While you can place it on a hard, moisture-proof surface like concrete and cover it with a tarp to insulate it, maintaining moisture and temperatures inside will be very difficult.

Hot Composting

Hot composting is a special compost method that requires unique equipment to accelerate the composting process with heat. The premise behind hot composting is that the composting activity generates heat on it’s own. You can maintain that heat with a large enough compost pile or bin, insulation, and placement in direct sunlight as mich as possible.

Maintaining this pile type requires a bit more maintenance and equipment, but can result in nutrient rich compost for your garden quickly. It requires a larger compost bin than normal, and depending on your temperatures, may need some kind of insulation jacket or container to trap the heat in.

Once it starts, however, you just need to feel the compost frequently. If it is uncomfortably warm, then you’re in the gold zone; once it cools down, turning the compost will jump-start microbial activity.

Will composting worms survive winter?

Vermicomposting is the practice of adding worms to a compost pile or bin to accelerate the composting propcess. Worms, particularly red worms, break down organic material very quickly and efficiently.

They do a great job reducing food waste by turning your kitchen scraps into nutrient-rich humus in just a few short weeks. So whether you want to reduce your environmental impact or just want an easy way to make your garden thrive all year round, worm composting is definitely worth considering!

Luckily, worms tend to leave cocoons towards the end of fall, which can survive very low temperatures. These cocoons will soon hatch into new worms, continuing the composting process.

However, if you live in an area that consistently experiences temperatures below 32°F, the baby worms in the cocoons will still have a hard time surviving.

If you can, move your compost bin to a sheltered area if the temperature drops below freezing consistently.

worms help create nutrient rich compost
worms help create nutrient rich compost

Where to Place Your Compost Bin in the Winter

Placing your compost bin in a warmer area of your yard makes the most sense. Think about a spot where the sun shines most of the day; it may look a bit silly in the front yard if it is a larger bin, but properly maintaining your compost bin should be a priority regardless.

You can also place your compost bin near a stone or cement wall if you have one. These types of walls tend to absorb heat and can radiate that heat at night, not to mention shielding your compost bin from the wind.

Keep in mind that you’ll need to keep your compost moist to aid the decomposition process. It may be more convenient for you to do this if you keep in near where you store your garden hose.

Can Compost Survive the Winter?

Yes! As we already said, maintaining your compost over the winter is not that difficult, as long as you pay attention to the things you feed your pile and the moisture levels inside. As long as it doesn’t freeze, it will survive. Composting worms risk succumbing to the cold once temperatures dip below freezing, but you can mitigate this by insulating your bin or moving it to a warm location. 

Useful Video on Hot Composting

Accelerating compost in cold weather

Restarting Compost After Winter

Typically, after winter is finished, there will be a lot of exogenous moisture inside your compost piles. All you can do here is turn it and wait. Turning it will hopefully kickstart microbial activity, along with increased heat, and adding brown and green material to the pile will give it more fuel. Checking the pile for any unintended friends, like large branches, will also do you good to remove them.

You should also note the gardening zone you are in; the United States is split into 13 plant hardiness zones, and the further north you go, the colder these zones tend to become. So if you are in one of these zones, it would probably do you well to invest in hot composting or even a compost accelerator.

2 thoughts on “The Best Winter Compost Accelerators”

Comments are closed.